Steelers Turning Point: Penalty-Backed Touchdown Drive Torches Titans

Following each game in the 2021 Steelers season, I will be highlighting the play or event in the game that is the turning point. These aren’t meant to be anything earth-shattering, but meant to take a deeper look at how we arrived at the outcome of the game that may be hard to see during the first live watch.

We’ve seen the same script for the Pittsburgh Steelers too many times at this point in the 2021 season. It’s become old hat now that we’ve reached week 15 against the Tennessee Titans.

I have to bring out a meme normally reserved for the Steelers free agency period to describe Steelers Nation through the first two and a half quarters of games this year.

After their first drive of the second half resulted in a one-yard three-and-out, this game was turned around on an unlikely drive with seven minutes to go in the third. Like many of the Steelers’ offensive drives, it started out slow and disorganized.

A Ben Roethlisberger play-action deep ball that almost got picked it off by Tennessee, was called for pass interference but was offset by a holding call on Steelers guard, Trai Turner. It felt like the one chance this offense had of getting downfield was by the help of a yellow flag. Two plays later the offense that mustered only 54 yards, at this point in the game, would get the help they needed. However, it would come at a cost.


On 3rd & 1, the Steelers dialed up play-action again. Rookie, tight end, Pat Freiermuth, runs a drag route. Unfortunately for him, the Titans are in cover-2 with nosey corners. The boundary corner drives on the throw and gives Freiermuth a pop. You can tell right away Freiermuth’s bell was rung by how slow he reacts after the hit. He’s then hit hard again by the Titans linebacker.


Freiermuth would end up getting three hits to the head within a couple of seconds, one by the cornerback, one by the linebacker, and one by the ground. He would later be diagnosed with his second concussion in just a month of football and not return to the game. It was a scary moment for any player, much less one so early in his NFL career.

The Titans cornerback would be flagged for unnecessary roughness for the hit and thankfully the Steelers’ offense would finally take advantage. The play, in general, served as a spark for the Steelers’ comeback. While it’s hard to make a direct correlation, it’s difficult to deny the tides seemed to turn the Steelers way after this play.

The very next snap they’d go right back to a tight end, this time, Zach Gentry on a screen.


Gentry would give the Titans defensive backs the business in honor of his fallen brother. He looked like a Mack truck rumbling upfield before truck-sticking Titans safety, Amani Hooker, on his way to a 17-yard gain. The play would end up being their longest play from scrimmage all afternoon.

After a solid run by Najee Harris, the Steelers’ offense would be aided by a yellow flag again. This time it would be for a pass interference call against the defense.


On the fade throw, the Titans defensive back gets hands-on Claypool and never lets off, drawing the flag and bringing the ball down to the goal-line for the Steelers.


There, we’d get to see one of the rarest play calls you’ll ever see as a Steelers fan, a QB sneak. It resulted in what is likely Ben Roethlisberger’s last rushing touchdown in the black and gold and I think he knew it too as he took some time to himself in the bowels of the Heinz Field shortly after the play.

The Titans offense drives following the Freiermuth hit and Steelers touchdown would look like this:

  • Fumble
  • Interception
  • Fumble
  • Turnover On Downs

And just like that, the Steelers are 7-6-1 right back in the playoff hunt.

What did you feel was the turning point of the game? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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